Sample text choices for Prose: novel and short story

How to choose the right combination of texts for your class so that they will enjoy their genre study but also have a variety of possibilities for answering the questions they face in the exam? The PLA gives you a wide range of choices: considering your options and working out the possibilities for comparison given by different combinations can be a time-consuming - but quite enjoyable - business.

The following are sample text combinations to give you some idea about the thinking that can go into selecting the texts for your class. There is one for each level.

These selections are not being held up as any better than the many other combinations you could select from the PLA but they are choices that have worked with classes in the past, both in terms of giving a rich and engaging learning experience about the genre concerned, and in terms of success in the final examinations.

A reminder of the advice from examiners:

"Choice of texts does need very careful consideration, given that candidates will have to write comparatively. Teachers preparing candidates for this paper should ensure that they are alert to a variety of possibilities for comparison, not just in terms of broadly comparable content but also with reference to stylistic features and authorial intent."

May 2015 Subject report, English A Literature Time Zone 1

Selection 1: Prose: novel and short story at HL

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Atonement by Ian McEwan

True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Thoughts on this combination:

This is a challenging combination with four fairly long, dense texts so it would not necessarily suit every class but it is a selection that is full of rich possibilities for comparison. For a shorter alternative, Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut could be substituted in (probably for True History of the Kelly Gang) and would also work well with this selection.  All sorts of connections can be made between these texts and what folows are just a few of the possibilities.  Firstly,  all four novels are concerned with the past and the effect of the past on the present; AtonementBeloved and True History of the Kelly Gang can all be classified as historical novels and all three authors are interested in examining a violent and traumatic period from their nation's past in order to explore notions of individual, national and/or racial identity.  Wuthering Heights and Beloved have a ghostly mystery at the heart of their stories - and both use aspects of the gothic - while True History of the Kelly Gang also includes supernatural elements. In terms of setting, houses and the concept of a home are of great importance in all of these novels.  All four texts are fascinating in terms of their authors' choices and changes in narrative voice and perspective, not to mention in terms of how they handle time and the use of analepsis and prolepsis.  All four authors are clearly interested in challenging and experimenting with the conventions of the genre while Atonement and True History of the Kelly Gang (and Slaughterhouse 5) deal explicitly with the purpose, creation and effects of fiction.  

Selection 2: Prose: novel and short story at SL

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Thoughts on this combination:

Each of these three novels features a young central protagonist dealing with some dramatic changes in their life and as such each explores how an individual's identity is shaped by experiences and those around them as they grow up.  Great Expectations and Purple Hibiscus can both be classified as Bildungsroman, offering a whole range of interesting comparisons and contrasts in terms of plot, setting, authorship and context.   For example, they can be contrasted in terms of one being a colonial and the other a post-colonial text.  Family is at the centre of each of the three texts, both in terms of the core setting and also as a wider thematic concern.  All three are told in the first person by the protagonist and use a voice that is personal and personable, while the unconventional switch in voice and jump in time at the end of The Handmaid's Tale offers an interesting contrast to the more traditional endings in Great Expectations and Purple Hibiscus. The latter two in particular also include a large cast of characters and character types while the methods of characterization used by all three authors is another important and interesting area for exploration.  Strong connections can also be made between the use of symbolism in Purple Hibiscus and The Handmaid's Tale.  Religion and its impact on societies and individuals is also a central concern in these two texts, while both authors are also clearly challenging patriarchal power and male dominance. While the same cannot be said for Charles Dickens, looking at all three texts through a feminist lens and comparing how they present gender would be another intriguing area for study.  
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